06 April 2015

Sampanthan as Opposition Leader

Nimal Siripala Silva is the official Leader of the Opposition.  The leader of his party is the President of the country. No office is vested with even a fracture of the powers of the President.  Silva’s party, moreover has a parliamentary majority.  That Silva is the Opposition Leader in these circumstances is a monumental joke.  It makes a mockery of accepted democratic norms.   The cry for a ‘true’ opposition leader therefore makes a lot of sense. 

In the context of an SLFP-UNP led ‘National Government’ meaningful opposition cannot come from either party.  Leave them out and the ‘next in line’ is the Tamil National Alliance.  They have 14 MPs.  Individuals belonging to other parties that contested under the UPFA or later joined that coalition are either part of the Government (Champika Ranawaka of the UPFA and Rauff Hakeem of the SLMC for example) or are single-member entities in Parliament (Wimal Weerawansa of the PPF, Dinesh Gunawardena of the MEP and Vasudeva Nanayakkara).  Even if they join hands they are still ‘smaller’ than the TNA. 

The TNA supported Maithripala Sirisena at the last Presidential Election but didn’t take up any ministerial portfolios.  Many members of Silva’s party, in contrast, have prospered even though they had backed Sirisena’s opponent.  The case, therefore is strong for an Opposition Leader from the TNA. For many reasons, the natural choice would be R Sampanthan.

Rajavarothiam Sampanthan is as senior a parliamentarian as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, both having been first elected in 1977.  At 82 he is one of the oldest MPs if not the oldest.  A staunch Tamil Nationalist whose political positions have seen him first as approver and later as servant of terrorism, Sampanthan nevertheless has been an ardent defender of general citizens’ rights when it comes to issues that are not of the ethnic kind.  He is not without blemish, his detractors would argue.  Then again, who among the 225 in Parliament is without blemish? Who is not guilty of crimes of omission and commission? 

There will be comparisons with A Amirathalingam’s tenure as Opposition Leader of course.  But that was then and this is now and there’s nothing to say that what followed then would come about now.  Different factors.  Different context.  It is wrong to single out one factor and call in ‘overriding’ in producing particularly horrifying outcomes. 

The point is, even if that were the case, it is always better to leave emotions out, err on the side of propriety and do the right thing, procedurally speaking. 

I vote for Mr Sampanthan.  

[The above is the second part of a two-part editorial published in 'The Nation' April 4, 2015]